In alternating chapters, the novel switches to 2001, another pre-apocalyptic moment in American history. Roger is now 70 and still just as likable and well-connected as ever. Fed up with the corruption and incivility of his city, he launches a shoestring campaign for mayor: “Vote for the old guy!” He just might win, but an enterprising young reporter from Capitol Hill’s Roll Call has joined the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (this is before it went online-only) and plans to make a name for herself with an exposé about Mr. Seattle.
These modern-day sections provide almost all the drama in the novel, but they’re nowhere near as artful as the 1962 chapters, which let the fair and Roger’s enthusiasm unspool so richly. Although Lynch worked as a journalist in Washington, D.C., and Washington state before turning to fiction, his portrayal of the Post-Intelligencer newsroom feels stale, a collection of the usual suspects borrowed from some TV dramedy about the economic and competitive pressures of modern journalism. (“The Imperfectionists,” that witty newspaper novel by Tom Rachman, transforms those types into marvelously quirky individuals.) The plucky young reporter determined to get to the truth about Roger’s background and maybe win a Pulitzer Prize has potential as a character, but Lynch doesn’t give himself enough room to let her breathe outside that worn archetype. At this length, at this speed, the complex issues he wants to explore about the responsibilities of journalists, the conflict between accuracy and fairness, the corrosive pressure to break news — all come across in primary colors. We need a dramatization of Janet Malcolm’s “The Journalist and the Murderer”; we get a breezy episode of “Lou Grant.”